iPad Buying Guide: iPad vs iPad Air vs iPad Pro vs iPad mini

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With six different models in five sizes and prices ranging from $329 to $1,899, there are plenty of iPad options to choose from. That's a good thing, but how do you decide which one to buy? Use our handy iPad buying guide to get the right Apple slate for your needs and budget.

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News and Updates (September 2019)

iPad Models Compared

The iPad lineup is made up of three families: the iPad Pro, the iPad mini and the regular, 9.7-inch iPad. But as you drill down to the individual models, you'll find plenty of variety in specs, features and price. Here's a quick breakdown.

  iPad Pro
iPad Pro
iPad Air (2019) iPad iPad mini (2019)
Best For Laptop Replacement, Professional Artists  Laptop Replacement, Professional Artists Productivity, Media Consumption, Gaming Media Consumption, Gaming Reading, Email, Social Media, Gaming
$999 $799  $499 $329 ($299 for schools) $399
Screen 12.9 inches
(2732 x 2048)
11 inches (2388 x 1688)   10.5-inch (2224 x 1668) 9.7 inches
(2048 x 1536)

7.9 inches
(2048 x 1536)

Battery Life  13:14 (tested) 10 hours (claimed)  10 hours (claimed)  10:07 (tested) 12:40 (tested)
Processor A12X Bionic A12X Bionic  A12 Bionic A10 A12 Bionic
Storage 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB 64GB, 256GB, 512GB, 1TB  64GB, 256GB 32GB, 128GB 64GB, 256GB
(Rear / Front)
12MP, 7MP  12MP, 7MP 8MP, 7 MP 8MP, 1.2MP 8 MP. 1.2 MP
4K  4K 1080p 1080p 1080p
Silver, Space Gray  Silver, Space Gray Silver, Space Gray, Gold Silver, Space Gray, Gold Silver, Space Gray, Gold
Touch ID Face ID Face ID  Yes Yes Yes
Yes Yes  Yes Yes Yes
Dimensions 11 x 8.5 x 0.2 inches 9.7 x 7 x 0.2 inches  9.8 x 6.8 x 0.2 inches 9.4 x 6.6 x 0.29 inches 

8 x 5.3 x 0.2 inches

Weight 1.53 pounds  1.4 pounds 1 pound 1.03 pounds

0.66 pounds

Common Features

All iPads provide access to more than 1 million apps optimized for the big screen, which is far more than what Android or Windows devices offer. You can also expect a high-quality aluminum unibody design and a bright and crisp display.

The tablets all come with iOS 12, the latest version of Apple's mobile OS. Key features include a Files app for organizing your documents and projects, a Dock that makes iOS feel more like macOS and the ability to drag and drop text, photos and files.

Apple is set to replace iOS with iPadOS 13, which launches this fall. You can learn all about the features coming to the new operating system here, and read our guide to learn how to download the developer beta.

Also note that all iPad models can be ordered with 4G LTE capability, which allows you to get online when you're out of Wi-Fi range. You'll pay $139 more than you would for the Wi-Fi-only version, plus the cost of whatever monthly data plan you sign up for.

iPad (9.7-inch)

Simply called the "iPad," this 9.7-inch slate is the most affordable Apple tablet, with a starting price of just $329. Despite its lower price, the iPad has plenty of premium specs, including a 2048 x 1536 retina display, a speedy A10 processor, Apple Pencil support and dual 8-MP / 1.2-MP cameras. It comes in Silver, Space Gray and Gold colors in either 32 or 128GB capacity. Apple claims that the 2018 version of the iPad will provide up to 10 hours of endurance, but if it's anything like the 2017 model, the numbers could be even higher as that last generation tablet lasted 12 hours and 59 minutes on the Laptop Mag Battery Test.

Apple is also targeting schools with the latest version of the iPad, offering educators the opportunity to buy this slate for just $299 and providing a host of education apps. 

Best For: Because of its relatively low price and generous screen size, the iPad is a great choice for media consumption, gaming, social media and some light productivity (email, note taking without a pen). Though the iPad mini 4 is a better size for small hands, many parents will prefer the iPad's lower price when choosing a slate for their kids. College students on a budget will also find this model appealing. 

iPad mini (2019)

The more portable, purse-friendly tablet in the iPad family, the iPad mini (2019) is a great handheld device. It features the same pixel resolution as the 9.7-inch iPad model on a smaller, denser 7.9-inch display. It also offers fantastic battery life and a speedy A12 Bionic chip, which makes it faster than that 9.7-inch iPad.

Best For: If you like to read on the couch, in bed or on the go, the iPad mini is a great size for books, especially comic books. Its relatively small screen makes it easy to type quick social media posts or send off emails, during one handed use or while standing up. The mini is the best size for kids, but parents may prefer to get the less-expensive iPad 9.7-inch. 

iPad Air (2019)

This $499 iPad looks to provide the best mix of pro and consumer features at a price that won't hurt too much. With support for the Apple Pencil and Smart Keyboard, it can be your next 2-in-1. The biggest differences with it and the entry-level $329-inch iPad are its slightly larger 10.5-inch screen, Smart Keyboard support and faster processor. Still, its screen isn't as huge as what you get with an iPad Pro and its processor is a step behind the A12X Bionic chip.

Best For: If you write a lot, edit photos and want a large screen for watching videos and multitasking, but don't run highly-demanding video editing apps.

11-inch iPad Pro (2018)

This is what happens when you take the 10.5-inch iPad Pro, increase its screen, shrink its bezels and swap its home button out for Face ID. Oh, and then there's the Ferrari engine under the hood: Apple's given the 2018 iPad Pros the fastest chip its ever made: the phenomenal A12X Bionic processor. Not only will it run the forthcoming Photoshop CC smoothly, but the company says it will provide gaming performance on par with an Xbox. While we can't wait to test that claim, it's certain that speed-demons will want this iPad Pro, especially if portability is a priority.

And if you use the Apple Pencil, you definitely want one of the new iPad Pros. The 2nd Generation Apple Pencil is only compatible with the 11-inch iPad Pro and its larger sibling, so if you want its seamless magnetic docking, charging and pairing, you won't want to get the older 10.5-inch iPad Pro. If you already own a 4K display you can connect to via USB Type-C, it may make sense to buy this over the larger sibling, as you already own a giant screen.

Best For: Creative pros who love their styli, want a smaller device and push their iPad to the limits. Also, pros on a budget will go for this model, as it's just as fast and capable, but starts at $200 less and its $179 Smart Keyboard Folio is $20 less than the 12.9-inch iPad Pro's keyboard cover.

12.9-inch iPad Pro (2018)

If you think bigger is better, the 12.9-inch iPad Pro is the best. Not only does it have the speedy A12X chip that the 11-inch iPad Pro offers, but its 2732 x 2048-pixel Liquid Retina, edge-to-edge panel is the largest digital canvas that apple offers. But that size doesn't ruin its portability, as it's a mere 0.4 pounds heavier than the 11-inch iPad Pro, and just as thin at 0.23 inches.

And about that A12X processor, our tests showed that the new iPad Pro is faster at image editing than actual laptops, including the Surface Pro 6 and the Core i7 Dell XPS 13. And with 13+ hours of battery life, it also outlasts both of those PCs.

The 2nd Generation Apple Pencil (sold separately for $129) packs gesture-based tricks in its barrel, and a charging method that won't feel like you're breaking it (I'm looking at you, iPad and 10.5-inch iPad Pro). Also, that A12X processor can handle anything you throw at it. If you add the $199 Smart Keyboard, you've got a 2-in-1 that might be able to rival your laptop. 

You'll definitely want to get an iPad Pro keyboard case if you opt for this model, as the three options we've tested do a great job at perfecting the iPad as a laptop competitor.

Best For: Those demanding creative pros who want the best iPad experience possible. Not only is it super-fast, but its larger screen — both in inches and pixels — provides the largest canvas for professional artists and video editors to do their work.

Author Bio
Henry T. Casey
Henry T. Casey,
Henry is a senior writer at Laptop Mag, covering security, Apple and operating systems. Prior to joining Laptop Mag — where he's the self-described Rare Oreo Expert — he reviewed software and hardware for TechRadar Pro, and interviewed artists for Patek Philippe International Magazine. You can find him at your local pro wrestling events, and wondering why Apple decided to ditch its MagSafe power adapters.
Henry T. Casey, on